TAMPA — With point guard Anthony Collins gone for the final 10 minutes, taken off the court strapped to a stretcher and hospitalized with a neck injury, USF held off a late rally by George Mason, going 10-for-10 on free throws in the final two minutes to pull out a 61-57 win at the Sun Dome on Saturday night.
USF (8-3) had gone 6-for-17 on free throws until the final two minutes, but guard Jawanza Poland hit six in a row himself on the way to a team-high 16 points after the Patriots (7-5) had cut a 13-point lead to two with 33 seconds left.
The Bulls also finished the game without forward Victor Rudd, a national player of the week last week, who suffered a concussion late in the game, coach Stan Heath said.
Heath reiterated after the game that Collins — a central figure in last year's NCAA Tournament run — had sensation in his arms and legs.
The sophomore had left the game earlier after being poked in the eye, but then with 10:30 left in the game he took a knee to the head in a collision with a George Mason player. Collins was strapped to a board by EMS workers and taken off the court on a stretcher after lying still on his back for about 10 minutes as trainers stabilized his head and neck.
"AC does have sensation in his extremities, in his hands and feet, so that's a good sign. We'll learn a little bit more (Saturday night). They're still doing tests on him," Heath said.
"… We already came into the game a little shorthanded, and we're banged up even more. I'll give our team a lot of credit. We could have folded and we didn't. We battled. We played really hard … we fought like crazy on the defensive end and made some tough plays as well."
The Bulls started the night with three scholarship players out with injuries, guards Shaun Noriega (foot) and JaVontae Hawkins (back) and forward Kore White (toe). Heath said Noriega and Hawkins won't be back for Wednesday's game at UCF, and though White has a chance, the Bulls could be down five key players for their final nonconference game.
USF used a 12-0 run early in the second half to build a 34-24 lead, and even after Collins' injury, the Bulls were in control, leading 49-36 with 5:12 to play. But the Patriots answered with a 10-2 run to cut the lead to five, and free throws whittled that down to 55-53 with 33 seconds to go.
The Bulls won with free throws, but their concern was still for Collins and hope for a quick and full recovery.
"It was rough to take in," said Martino Brock, who took over at point guard and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. "He's our point guard, the one that starts everything, the leader on our team. It was rough to see him go down. I pray that everything goes good with him."
USF travels to face Central Florida — which beat the Bulls in the season opener in Tampa — on Wednesday, with the Big East opener following Jan. 6 at home against No. 9 Syracuse.